New Mexico and Drink Driving: Right Impulse, Weak Approach

After trying ignition interlocks, policy makers in New Mexico have come to the right conclusion about repeat drink drivers: The focus should be on their alcohol use rather than just their driving. This approach has the twin virtues of allowing people to drive so that they can work and removing the vector of other public health and public safety threats (i.e., chronic drink drivers also commit other crimes under the influence).

However, New Mexico’s proposed approach of marking driver’s licences to indicate that someone may not purchase alcohol is pretty weak. People who are middle-aged and above almost never get carded. Your regular bar tender will never card you. A heavy drinker with a marked license could still easily get alcohol from family members and drinking buddies.

What’s tragic about this policy wheeze is that the solution is already known: Mandatory 24/7 sobriety with twice a day breath tests. In South Dakota, where the 24/7 approach was founded, over 99% of the more than 4 million conducted breath tests have been negative. Drink driving arrests, domestic violence arrests and rates of imprisonment have all fallen in the Mount Rushmore state, as have alcohol-involved vehicular homicides. Neighboring states are wisely copying the successful model of South Dakota.

New Mexico in this case *should* re-invent the wheel. Forget the licenses and go for 24/7 sobriety.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

10 thoughts on “New Mexico and Drink Driving: Right Impulse, Weak Approach”

  1. I don’t doubt that 2x/day breathalyzer is more effective. My guess is, going down to the police station for it will cost minimum $5-10 per time. Marking up the guy’s license: lots cheaper than that, and somewhat effective. So here the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    1. Depending on which is more effective and by how much, you could be recouping that money pretty fast.

    2. Also note that having to be tested twice daily is a big restriction on one’s freedom. Can’t go on a backpack trip, or camping a few days with your kids, etc.
      If the alternative were jail, it’s obviously not as harsh. But what comps you pick is important.

      1. Good point about freedom. The freedom of the 10,000 people a year who die from drunk drivers killing them is irrelevant, the important thing is whether a guy with 4 DUI convictions has the freedom to get the 5th.

        1. Never did I say drunk killers should go without penalty, punishment or censure.

          But we are talking about which restrictions on repeat DUIs are effective. If two protocols are equally effective in reducing repeat offenses, then the one restricting the violator least should be chosen. After all, the other choice is jail, which is very effective at DUI prevention, but at a cost ($ and freedom)

          1. “If two protocols are equally effective in reducing repeat offenses, then the one restricting the violator least should be chosen.”

            That’s if you ignore the punitive element. Put simply, that is the notion that if somebody has committed a serious crime, then justice demands that he or she be given a punishment that is proportionate to the severity of the crime.

            And don’t forget the possible deterrent effect of severe punishment.

          2. I was assuming this all was in the parole phase of the system. After any jail time, fines, restitution have been imposed. What continuing restrictions should be applied.

            Are we saying that these folks should be barred from taking a vacation for the rest of their lives? Or only 90 days.

  2. The law might be helpful if a provision were added that required liquor servers to card everyone. That provision is not in the law.

    The obvious response to that is to get a fake IDs. Fake ID: not just for the underaged any more.

  3. BTW, you’ve got an open bold or emphasis tag near the end of your post, and it’s messing up every subsequent thing on the front page.

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